SkiBike Tour 2014-15 - What's La Plagne?

Posted: Friday, 27 February 2015 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: , , ,

With good weather looking likely to hold out, I decided to stay in the Tarentaise region and managed to bag a last minute bargain at The Auberge de Valezan. A more charming and rustic mountain location would be hard to find; the proprietor was a star, both he and the locals all piled in to get me free of an icy patch in the parking lot and on my way for some secret shopping at La Plagne.

After a length drive through fresh snow, going first down then up many hairpin bends, some of which may have contained scenes of mild peril; my initial impression was that I had slipped through a ski centric worm hole and found myself in Avoriaz, only bigger. I won't even bother to do the research, I've sat through a lifetime of business meetings and I can feel it in my waters that the same architect or design team was involved in the project management of La Plagne.

La Plagne - a compromise between the natural features and commercial necessity

To be fair, although I have a penchant for authentic mountain villages, of all the artificial "supermarket skiing" styles, this has to be the most sympathetic to the environment. It is a tasteful compromise between blending with the natural features and brutal commercial necessity.

I know that skibobs have been quietly gaining traction at La Plagne along with the ubiquitous SnowScoot as the new alternative snow pursuits. So the purpose of my visit was to establish whether a modern era freestyle skibiker would be able to get around without any issues.

I had chosen to head for Plagne Bellecote, which is situated a smidgen below 2000 metres altitude, hence the long climb. I decided to use it as a starting point, as in a worst case scenario, there would be gondola lifts in addition to chairlifts to use. I found a spot to park, got myself organised and headed for the ticket kiosk.
I though I had misunderstood, when told the price for a day pass, but no, the lady behind the partition really did want €50; that's Chamonix prices but this sure ain't Chamonix lady.

La Plagne - €50 day pass, hey this ain't Chamonix

I was going to start with the gondola lift but there was a long queue, so I decided to bite the bullet and simply picked a chairlift at random and headed for it. The only concern for the lift operators was that I had a leash, they had never seen my Firem VS inspired bandoleer design, but they were very happy with it and hurried me on my way.
The day had started with some light snow, which was good, but as it progressed conditions became more foggy by the minute and by foggy, I mean you couldn't see the handlebars pea soup type foggy. Typical, yesterday I could see but not ride, today I could ride but not see.

My first impressions are that a great deal of La Plagne's runs are of the flattering blue variety, they are the perfect "Goldilocks slopes", not too steep. nor too shallow, not too flat, nor too bumpy, they're just right. Interspersed between them are a profusion of cute little Teletubbies type hillocks, just right for practising some free ride, but without risk. There were even a number of natural half-pipe shaped gullies, although working out how you could get to them was a challenge.

Eh oh! Teletubbies and their hill - source DHX Media

Hoping to get above the murk I headed for the Roche de Mio, just below the glacier. You could almost feel the sun trying to break through, but still not see it. I tried the fun tunnel piste, which unsurprisingly takes you through a tunnel, darkened and with spooky looped music. I wanted a second go, got a bit lost in the fog and found myself on the Inversens red run; at the bottom of which the Crozats black run starts. I baulked at the prospect of doing this, for the first time, on a skibike, in white-out conditions and opted for a rickety old high speed chairlift to get me back to civilisation. I didn't know whether skibikes were allowed on such quick lifts, but the operator at the bottom was too busy shaping snow to notice me and the one at the top was too engrossed in the book he was reading to even look up!

La Plagne - Hoping to get above the murk I headed for the Roche de Mio

I was surprised to see snow cannons at all levels, right up to 2500 metres, something I have not seen before. I can but assume that this is in response to the demand for reliable snow conditions from top to base station, regardless of Mother Nature's munificence. You could feel the difference though, especially at the end of the day when the volume of traffic had scraped some tricky sections bare.

So despite some appalling conditions, the day was a resounding success. You can get around without issues, but novices might do well to avoid the older chairlifts or just ask for them to be slowed down a bit.
The vertical range is astounding, the highest pistes start at over 3000 metres from which you have the potential to descend down to 1250 metres, that's an astonishing 2000 metres or 6000 feet of vertical range. So perhaps this does put La Plagne on the same level as Chamonix and go some way to amortising the high cost. It is also a large area on par with Meribel that links with Les Arcs and the intermediate resorts.
In conclusion there's no reason why the well healed novice skibiker shouldn't spend a week at La Plagne. There is ample variety for practising, miles of cruising, expert terrain, plenty of easily accessed free ride and a vertical range that would be the envy of many other ski resorts.

There's no reason why the novice skibiker shouldn't spend a week at La Plagne

I thought I would get tomorrow off, to recover, but no, I've just been informed by text that I should be skibiking Avoriaz of all places and the sun may even come out to play too.